Music icon Prince died Thursday at age 57
Van Jones, a friend of Prince's, explains eight things that fans might not know about the singer
Editor’s Note: Van Jones is president of Dream Corps and Rebuild the Dream, which promote innovative solutions for America’s economy. He was President Barack Obama’s green jobs adviser in 2009. A best-selling author, he is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy. Follow him on Twitter @VanJones68. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
I lost my good friend Prince on Thursday. There will be much talk about the art that he created. There will be much speculation about why he left us so soon.
But right now, I just want to share eight things that people in the media – and even his most dedicated fans – may not know about him.
Prince had a secret talent that few knew about. He was a comic genius. And that’s no joke. Honestly: Even if he had not been a musician, he might still have been globally famous – as a comedian. He could easily have given Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and Kevin Hart a run for their money. Sometimes we would watch black comedy acts together on his computer, and then he would riff off their routines. He could always make them 10 times funnier – without ever using curse words!
No swear words
By the way: Prince would never curse or use swear words – no matter how upset he got. And he wouldn’t let you swear around him. Once I said a curse word at Paisley Park (his home in Minnesota). He lifted his eyebrows and said, “You can’t speak that way here.” He raised one hand, palm toward me. Then he looked around the room. “The paint will peel off the walls.”
Prince could kick anyone’s butt in table tennis – and talk trash the whole time. If you wanted to be humiliated, challenge him to a match on his ping-pong table next to the recording studio at Paisley. He would systematically destroy all comers. The worst part: listening to him brag about it – before, during and after.
Prince was immensely charitable – giving away lots of money anonymously. As a Jehovah’s Witness, he was not allowed to boast about his donations. But he helped causes as diverse as public radio, Green For All, the Harlem’s Children’s Zone and Black Lives Matter. More importantly, he made lots of calls behind the scenes to get people to act on causes that needed attention. He would see something in the news, and start calling people – “We need to do something about this.” He was kind of like the 911 of the celebrity class.
Black history buff
Prince was an avid reader of Dr. John Henrik Clarke and other Afro-centric historians and philosophers. The lost Egyptian city of Amarna was a source of endless fascination for him. To be sure: Prince absolutely loved all peoples. He embraced all cultures and was too broad to be defined by any one color or culture. But he kept a special place in his heart for the struggles of black folks – going all the way back to ancient Africa.
Prince was a huge fan of Black Lives Matter. He believed in young people, and their ability to change the world. He hoped that Black Lives Matter would become a movement for economic uplift – using their creativity to start businesses. His decision to launch YesWeCode.org was a part of his faith that young people, blessed with the right spirit and given the right tools, could change the world for the better.
Secrets of The Muse
Prince almost never discussed or revealed the inspiration behind his songs. That used to drive me nuts! Believe me, I asked him a dozen different times and a dozen different ways. But he would never help me decode his most mysterious lyrics (say, in the song, “Seven”). Nor would he ever confide in me what made him remove the bass line from “When Doves Cry” – that last-second decision that changed music history. It seemed to me that he had a very special, intimate relationship with The Muse. It was like he and God had made a sacred, creative pact. And Prince never wanted to add any interpretation to their final creations. He just wanted the words and melodies to stand on their own – to work their magic a billion different ways, on a billion different souls.
Beat the record industry
The happiest day that I have ever seen him is the day that Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins got him his master recordings back. It was like someone being released from prison. Every day I knew him before that day he would talk about getting his masters back. Every. Single. Day. He felt that the musical industry had robbed him – as they had robbed so many black performers before him. But after a two-decade struggle, his last manager, Phaedra, forced the powers-that-be to relent. When he finally got his precious music catalog back under his own control, it was the ultimate vindication. He looked 100 pounds lighter – and 10 feet taller. Prince, Phaedra and I cried a little – and laughed a lot. He had beaten them all. The jewels were back in the Vault. And the Prince was irrevocably on his throne.